Noted Northwest racer Gary Bockman passed away on Thursday, Jan. 9. Bockman had been involved with the Portland, Ore., motorsports community since the early 1970s, becoming one of the most successful and versatile racing drivers the city has produced. He was also a leading advocate for Portland International Raceway.
“This track is my home,” Bockman often said. He proved that by volunteering his time for any project the track needed. Over the years, Bockman’s contributions ranged from putting in flower beds to refurbishing the bridge that crosses the track on the front straight.
When PIR’s future was thrown into doubt by Mayor Tom Potter in 2005, Bockman led the formation of Friends of PIR, a non-profit support organization created to advocate on behalf of the facility. Bockman rallied civic and business leaders, along with thousands of Portlanders, to support the track as a city resource. Bockman served as the group’s president several times over the organization’s 15-year history.
“Our hearts ache today,” said E.C. Mueller, general manager of Portland International Raceway. “Gary Bockman was my dearest friend, the biggest Portland International Raceway supporter of all time, and my partner for all things at the racetrack. It will take more than 100 hands to do what his two hands have done before.”
Bockman built a distinguished racing career over almost 50 years. Together with his friend Chuck Shafer, Bockman set a world speed record in 2000 at the Silver State Classic. On a closed-off stretch of Nevada highway, Bockman clocked an average speed of 207.780 mph. At the time, that was the highest average speed ever achieved on a public highway. Bockman also drove to a third-place finish in the 2008 Alcan 5000 Winter Rally, traveling hundreds of miles north of the Arctic Circle and onto the ice of the Arctic Ocean.
Bockman’s amateur and professional racing resumé includes numerous championships with both Oregon Region of SCCA and his beloved Cascade Sports Car Club. In 1996, he claimed second place in GT-3 at the SCCA National Championship Runoffs, and he almost won the same race in 2016. His blue and white Mazda RX-3 was easily recognizable at the Runoffs. Bockman also raced in Spec Miata, and was one of the leading West Coast drivers in the class.
In addition to competing, Bockman enjoyed teaching new drivers the arts of auto racing. He trained hundreds of amateur racing drivers and loved to take people for their first time driving on a racetrack. He invested time as an instructor in safe driving schools for teens as well as adults.
Throughout his life, Bockman demonstrated his dedication to his sport and his community. A memorial service at Portland International Raceway is being planned.